---- — If you're ever going to issue a specialty license plate celebrating the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, the timing couldn't be better.
The park is coming off its biggest year ever in 2012, when it played host to 1.53 million, smashing all previous attendence records. And in 2011 it was named the Most Beautiful Place in America — a pretty heady title — by ABC's "Good Morning America."
The park is on a roll, and Preserve Historic Sleeping Bear, a nonprofit "committed solely to preserving the over 300 historic structures and cultural landscapes within the Park," launched an effort to get a specialty license plate approved by the state.
The plates would cost a motorist $35 on top of the normal vehicle registration fee for the first year, then an additonal $10 a year after that; Preserve Historic Sleeping Bear would get $25 that first year, then $10 each year afterward to help pay for work on historic structures and controlling non-native species.
This isn't a new idea. The nonprofit Friends of Sleeping Bear Dunes, an all-volunteer group that helps the park with a host of projects, including river, shoreline, trail maintenance and establishing new trails, had suggested a specialty plate in 2008; but with the economy going to the dogs at the time, the timing didn't seem right, according to the group's Kerry Kelly.
This isn't an inexpensive proposition. The set-up fee for specialty plates is $15,000, and the nonprofit group has to guarantee 2,000 sold in the first year and 500 annually for the next five years, a Michigan Department of State spokesman said. The plate is discontinued if sales numbers aren't met.
Given the attendence record set in 2012 and the Good Morning America endorsement, this is probably as good a time as any for a specialty plate to make it.
Much is yet to be done. A bill sponsored by Rep. Ray Franz, R-Onekama, has to be approved by the Legislature and the design — which can make or break this kind of effort — has yet to be approved. Then they have to get sold.
There's plenty of competition in the specialty plate field in Michigan. All of the state's public universities have their own, along with 10 nonprofits that support causes from organ donation to lifehouse preservation and the Boy Scouts.
But brands don't get much better than Sleeping Bear, the 50,000-acre gem perched on pristine sand dunes above Lake Michigan straddling Leelanau and Benzie counties. The park has 64 miles of beaches, two islands, 26 inland lakes and a lot of fans.
All that's needed is a few thousand of the park's Michigan admirers to volunteer their car's bumper to the cause.